The winds bode well for bikepacking. This type of cycling combines know-how and minimalism, and it is being vigorously promoted as a type of cycling that fulfils all the requirements being imposed on us by the new normal: it is personal, it shuns the hurly-burly, it is contact with nature, it increases one’s ingenuity, it breaks away from routine and you return with your saddlebags filled with experiences.
Its name is already gaining ground as the one hundred per cent playful bicycle which has activated a modest but growing industry to the rhythm of a very specific demand, a demand that requires cycle luggage for the less travelled routes and a substantial dose of imagination.
And, as we have said, that’s easy. It doesn’t require much, just one thing above all, a desire to cycle and a love of cycling. You will need to know what is essential to take, as bikepacking bags will only carry what’s necessary for pedalling, stopping and feeling happy on a bike, and little else.
A good time to try it
We acknowledge that bikepacking is not a very widely practiced sport. If we look at a world map, there is no doubt that the red zone would be between the USA and Central Europe. It’s a specialism of the minimal. There are three bags for classic and extreme backpacking: the one that goes on the handlebars for camping items, plastics and the rest, the one on the seat, for changes of clothes, and the central one that goes under the horizontal tube of the frame.
These three bags provide a total capacity of 30 litres. You don’t need any more, just three spaces in which to store the essentials, which shouldn’t weigh more than twelve kilos. The three, quick-release bags are distributed along the bicycle shaft, which facilitates balance and manoeuvrability as well as improving the aerodynamics. Because of this, it is not accurate to describe them as saddle bags. With these, you have to make a careful choice about what you take.
The spirit of bikepacking lies in the itinerary, and this seeks remote and distant places, mapping the route, setting the pace and hitting the road. For example, for eight days, you will need a replacement jersey and cycling shorts, two or three changes of trousers and t-shirts, just in case, one of those down jackets that fits into your hand, and little else.
The idea is to ride as a group, not a very large one, five is an ideal figure. Load up the bag with the recommended gear and draw up a route. Do the Ebro or plough through the Pyrenees without setting a predetermined point or daily miles to cover. Set off early, always look for a location that is well lit by the sun in the mornings and don’t have a set point of arrival. That’s the idea, although it’s not easy. Us townies can’t always get used to the idea of sleeping out in the open.
My first bikepacking route
That’s why it’s exciting to start out, to have an open mind and mark the first area on the map. In Spain there are already companies that specialise in guiding and saving the more remote and less frequented locations for the more inquisitive cyclists. To start with, they even offer the option of reserving rooms.
The experience is a rank, and you don’t know what to take in your bikepacking bags until your third trip. In the meanwhile, you progress through a learning process that also entices you to sleep outdoors in a tranquil and safe location, one that avoids sleepless nights due to some clown wanting to pick an argument with the cyclists.
When you really get into it, you set off in the morning towards wherever you decide to head to, you eat where it suits you, and you pedal and pedal until you fall over with exhaustion. Until you say, “this is where I stop” to daydream and chat about the day, about what went well and the landscapes you have passed along the way and that you will always remember.
By Ibán Vega, from El Cuaderno de JoanSeguidor